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Facing Eternal Challenges

By Rabbi Joshua Heller, Congregation B’nai Torah
For some, these High Holidays 5782 have elicited the response. “Oh no, not again!” — though I suppose that some feel that way about the holidays every year! We assumed that this year would be different from last year, and yet we are facing some of the same challenges again.

Our Biblical role models suffered the same repetition, and their experience may offer us some clarity. In every generation in Genesis, younger siblings earned the favor of their parents and the jealousy of their older siblings. Consider the rivalries of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Twice, Sarah was taken from her husband by a foreign king with ill intent, and then Rebecca suffered the same fate. On Rosh Hashanah, we read how both Sarah and Hannah struggled with infertility. Abraham went through a total of ten tests.

Scholars offer explanations for this phenomenon, from the literary to the mystical. As we enter 5782, I believe there is another lesson we can learn, which is that life continues to challenge us with the same tests until we pass. From year to year, we may encounter the same conflicts and obstacles in our personal development, our families, organizations, and workplaces. Those who battle addiction must fight that fight every day. It is true for our Jewish community and larger society as well. We face the same challenges of conflict and fragmentation that threatened us a year ago.

Those tests, as challenging as they are, offer an exceptional opportunity. The essence of repentance is that we are given the opportunity to “re-test” and to improve upon our answers to life’s questions. This is not only true for our Jewish nation or for our community, but for us as individuals. This year we have the opportunity to do better than we did last.

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